So long, Big Law / Hello, New Law

Terrence Burgoyne

Mar 28, 2014

Alec Scott

(Recap)

Big Law - the law firms with hundreds of partners that service corporate Canada - is not feeling so big at the moment.

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It's not as if Big Law has been twiddling its thumbs while all this change - economic, cultural, technological - swirls around it. The most obvious attempt at 21st-century renewal is a series of cross-border mergers. Most striking among them is Norton Rose Fulbright, formed when the old Montreal firm Ogilvy Renault threw in its lot with an even older City of London firm, and others, to create a 3,800-lawyer international practice.

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Osler recently employed a computer program developed in part by a young Canadian lawyer to aid in due diligence on a $900-million (U.S.) deal that closed in January - Chemtrade Logistics's acquisition of General Chemical Holding Co. Built over three years, Noah Waisberg's DiligenceEngine searches contracts for relevant clauses and puts its findings into summary charts. The tool is used (after training) by lawyers. It's not outsourcing per se, but it can dramatically reduce the time an associate spends on due diligence.

At Osler, partner Terry Burgoyne and chief knowledge officer Mara Nickerson talk animatedly about disaggregation (the buzzword for dividing up a big project), about budgeting, about scope-setting meetings with clients, about the sophisticated software they've found to track progress on each file and about how they're using the data to manage the next similar one more efficiently.

They talk too about the process of persuading sometimes technophobic lawyers to change tack. There is an energy and enthusiasm in the room...

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